Nick J. Thierry
ST.CATHARINES - A world record and a close battle for the women's team title were the highlights of the annual Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union (CIAU) swimming championships hosted by Brock University.
The women's team race came down to the final relay of the three-day competition. Toronto had a nine point lead before the relay, and they couldn't finish lower than third to win. A fourth place for Toronto with a Calgary win would give them the title by one point.
A winning effort by McGill, with Calgary second and Toronto third, clinched the team race by seven points. "It was the closest team race for the past 30 years," Toronto coach Byron MacDonald said. "The whole year's training was resting on the final event. The four girls were excited but extremely scared as well."
Coach MacDonald was voted women's CIAU coach of the year.
Calgary had no difficulty in winning the men's team titleŅits 12th in the past 16 years. They relied on Olympic medal winner Curtis Myden and backstroker Chris Renaud, who set a world record on the first night in the 50 back.
Renaud was the athlete of the meet with his sweep of the three backstrokes in CIAU record times, His total of five gold medals and a silver easily earned him the 'male swimmer of the meet' award.
It has been a satisfying winter season for Renaud. At Winter Nationals he won both backstrokes and bettered the national record in the 200 back. At this meet he was in a class of his own. The world record in the 50 backstroke, 24.25, bettered Jeff Rouse's time of 24.37. Rouse is the world record holder in the 100 back and won the 1996 Olympics in that event.
Renaud will concentrate on his studies and miss the April short course World Championships in Sweden.
Coach Blondal praised Renaud, "He's taken good care of himself recovering from the excitements and disappointments of the Olympics. He approached the championship phase with winning all his races as his foremost goal. As he got faster and faster, his vision of where he could end up got larger too. After the Olympics you can retire, take a break or get right back into it. Both Curtis and Chris chose to have a break, and some home life. High level athletes need periodic breaks both from a muscular and psychological aspect."
After his 52.55 in the 100 back (just missing Mark Tewksbury's record time of 52.50), Renaud said. "My legs were tired. The effort to do the underwater kick all out on two consecutive weekends is catching up to me." On not going to Sweden, "final exams are starting the day the team leaves for Gothenburg, I just can't miss these. I missed all of last year so I have a lot of catching up now and be set for the next three years. I would have liked to race Adrian Radley, AUS, in Sweden. I'm ready to race with the best in the world."
Dinosaur coach Mike Blondal felt his Calgary program was on the right track. "We'll be aiming at winning both titles next year."
UBC coach Tom Johnson explained the cost involved in back-to-back meets in Halifax and St.Catharines. "We've been away from Vancouver since Monday 17th February. Normally I allow one day for every hour of time change. Due to limited finances, we went late and I think it hurt us somewhat in Halifax. 13 swimmers competed in the double (Nationals-CIAU). The cost for each was $1600. An additional nine came later only to CIAUs. The two week trip coincided with university reading week so little class work has been missed.
"The timing of these meets needs to be addressed. High performance athletes need sufficient time between CIAUs and Nationals to get home, recover, catch up with school, do a week or more of training and then taper again for Nationals. This year's double is brutal. But the kids learn a lot about how to race and put it on the line."
Winter nationals will be long course for the next three years and SNC's high performance director Dave Johnson feels the timing of the CIAUs needs to be reconsidered. He Has recommended that the university championships be the third week of February followed a month later by long course nationals.
"We will create a fund ($25,000 ) for high performance university programs that perform long course. A Varsity Cup will be up for grabs for the best performing university programs at long course winter nationals. Funds will be disbursed only after the athletes compete successfully at the following Summer Nationals. I expect four to five teams to share in the monies."